Monday, March 28, 2011

The Power of Flowers

Power is one of those overused, under-explained words in the English language--especially so in political science and international relations. If by power we mean an ability to influence--the most general meaning of power in the literature--then we invariably ask a series of questions: Who or what influences who or what? How is such influence enacted? Is all influence necessarily power? Is power always reducible to relationships of influence? If influence is the measure of power's presence, then is power omnipresent such that the weather has power over us (in determining what we should wear, for instance)? Does it make sense to attribute power to unintentional acts and inanimate objects and processes? Does the substance of power lie not in that which presumably exerts some influence or control over the subject, but rather in the subject over whom power is presumably exercised--precisely because it is the subject who decides to be influenced or not?  

Perhaps the very vagaries of our conceptualizations of power give birth to serious, systematic inquiry, and we should have it no other way.

No matter what we may think of power, I suppose one might declare it an undeniable fact that there is nothing like spring flowers after the doldrums of winter. Sure, winter has its attractions. But spring: well, spring enlivens. Longer and warmer days, brighter sunshine, daylight that extends past 7 p.m. are welcomed after gray days, long nights, and a cold that seeps into one's bones. Even the most impervious soul cannot help but pause, if but for a moment, to see the shining smile of the daffodil, or reflect briefly on his or her own vanity and worth when confronted with Narcissus. These flowers come to influence us. They affect our moods, even if ephemerally. And therein lies the power of flowers. 

Sure, daffodils and Narcissus may be pedestrian, banal even. But they are markers of time, signifiers of spring. And every garden seems incomplete without them.

And then there is the magnolia. My friend Adam is currently studying in Beijing. Over the last few months, he has sent various photos of flora in and around Beijing. Recently, he sent me these 3 photos of lovely magnolias (I saw a few in north Wilmington in partial bloom). In his latest email, Adam wrote, "I never thought flowers would have brightened my day as much as these did...after a gray, bleak winter I guess wildlife--flora or fauna--is that much more welcomed."

Contrary to my earlier musing, his formulation suggests that the subject does not always consciously decide to be influenced or not. We simply are influenced--and the smile across the face, or that je nais se quoi feeling we experience in the presence of something beautiful indicate the profundity of the experience of encountering the flower. Inanimate objects can and do exert power over us--and that is the power of flowers: omnipresent, multivalent and varied, and rather deeply psychological and emotive.   

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